In The Know: June 21, 2011

by | June 21st, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, the State Pardon and Parole Board is considering commuting life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug traffickers. The Oklahoma City teachers’ union released a “Shared Accountability and Responsibility Blueprint” to encourage negotiation on education reforms. Oklahoma House leaders are sifting through 126 requests for interim studies. They are expected to approve about 50 studies by July 7. You can see a full list of interim study requests here.

Transition services are helping Oklahoma foster children adjust to adulthood. The Oklahoma Department of Labor is cracking down on employers with outstanding fines for failure to provide workers compensation insurance. The OK Policy Blog interviewed fourth grade teacher Anna Eller on ways that teachers can encourage children to be healthier. A judge approved a $3.4B settlement over mismanagement of Native American assets by the federal government. Two longtime Cherokee Nation leaders are in a contentious race to become the next principal chief.

In today’s Policy Note, Illinois is pulling out of the Secure Communities program that uses fingerprints to identify undocumented immigrants in jail because it was catching too many people with only minor convictions or no criminal record at all. In a dozen states, including Oklahoma, more than half of those deported under this program had clean records. More below the jump.

continue reading In The Know: June 21, 2011

Encouraging kids to be fit, eat right, and have fun!

by | June 20th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (2)

Public schools have long been clearinghouses for fitness and nutrition initiatives in the United States.  Since the 1960s, the President’s Challenge program has inspired kids to meet physical fitness benchmarks.  Schoolchildren began to learn about the basic building blocks of a nutritious diet with the introduction of the food pyramid in the 1980s.  First Lady Michelle Obama tours the nation promoting the ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative to fight childhood obesity.  State and local governments continue to incentivize a variety of public health programs aimed at school-aged children through grants for innovative projects, i.e. planting community gardens.  I interviewed Anna Eller, a fourth grade teacher at Tulsa’s Lee Elementary School, to learn about simple techniques teachers can employ at the classroom level to encourage kids to lead an active lifestyle and embrace healthy eating habits.

What made you interested in integrating fitness and nutrition education into your curriculum?

I just finished a Masters degree at OSU in Health and Human Performance, with an emphasis on Applied Exercise Science, so I’ve been exposed to the research on the childhood obesity epidemic.  Also, my school, Lee Elementary, received grants as a Healthy Lifestyles School and our principal encouraged us to come up with ways to introduce the kids to health education.  I had already observed the impact of unhealthy habits in my classroom – many of my kids were sluggish and unmotivated throughout the day.

continue reading Encouraging kids to be fit, eat right, and have fun!

In The Know: June 20, 2011

by | June 20th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, Census numbers show that as Oklahoma’s rural counties depopulate, they are also getting older, which creates a challenge to provide health care and other services for the rural elderly. The state Human Services is being questioned for keeping its committees from being subject to the state’s open meeting law and improperly voting to reduce child-care subsidies. OK Policy previously discussed how child-care cuts will affect low-income working families. Beefed up tax collections and other changes to the law expected to bring in a net of $8 million in certified revenue that lawmakers can use as emergency funding this year or appropriate in 2013.

In the 15th year of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, the program has grown from less than 500 students to nearly 21,000. Despite a request from the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, the Office of Juvenile Affairs says they will not delay the September 30 closing of the L.E. Rader Center. The OSU regents voted to increase tuition and fees by 4.8 percent, and the OU regents will vote on a 5 percent increase this week. The OK Policy Blog finds that even as unemployment statistics go down, the total number of jobs in Oklahoma shows only a small increase.

A fairness hearing will be held on a proposed $3.4 billion settlement of a lawsuit over federal mismanagement of the assets of half a million American Indians, including some 35,000 in Oklahoma. NewsOK calls for sentencing reform to reduce incarcerations of non-violent offenders. Tulsa World opinion editor David Averill writes that despite statements that it would be protected, education was the big loser in this year’s state budget. In today’s Policy Note, the Associated Press looks at how lawmakers across the country are attempting to collect unpaid taxes on Internet sales to close state budget gaps. OK Policy previously wrote about efforts to end the Amazon tax loophole.

These stories and more below the jump.

continue reading In The Know: June 20, 2011

May Employment Report: Unemployment numbers improve again but job creation remains sluggish

by | June 17th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Economy | Comments (5)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released May state-level employment numbers today and the news was again good for Oklahoma. The state’s unemployment rate fell from 5.6 percent to 5.3 percent, continuing a trend that has seen the rate fall a full 1.6 percentage points in just six months. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is now the 4th lowest in the nation, behind only North Dakota (3.2 percent), South Dakota and New Hampshire (both 4.8 percent). The national unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent in May, up from 9.0 percent in April.

However, while declining unemployment is encouraging, the jobs numbers reported by the BLS were more ambiguous. There were 1,555,200 jobs in Oklahoma in May, an increase of a mere 3,500 from April. Over the past twelve months, the economy has added less than 22,000 jobs.

continue reading May Employment Report: Unemployment numbers improve again but job creation remains sluggish

The Weekly Wonk – June 17, 2011

by | June 17th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week at OK Policy, we looked at what the Legislature did and did not do this session to try to stop the runaway train of tax expendituresClick here for our issue brief exploring tax expenditures and principles for improving accountability and transparency.  Our quick take on May general revenue collections shows that while revenues are rebounding, they are still way down from pre-downturn levels.  The state is collecting almost 25 percent less in personal income tax in FY ’11 than in FY ’07, reflecting both an impartial economic recovery and the ongoing impact of income tax cuts and tax breaks.  Go to our website to view an updated version of our Budget Trends and Outlook presentation.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk – June 17, 2011

In The Know: June 17, 2011

by | June 17th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, with several Oklahoma towns that are requiring prescriptions for the tablet form of pseudoephedrine, the gel caps being mentioned as an alternative are not commercially available in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World warns that the new restrictions are short-sighted public policy that is unlikely to have a long-term impact on meth manufacturing. The Tulsa City Council is hosting a statewide summit on fighting meth today at the Tulsa Convention Center. College governing boards are meeting this week and next to approve tuition rates for next year, with most contemplating increases of 5 to 8 percent.

The OK Polcy Blog examines DHS cuts to child-care subsidies that will threaten access to quality child care for low-income families. The president of the group that pulled the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office’s accreditation two years ago said after touring the facility again that none of the problems have changed. Though staffing remains at 67 percent, the Department of Corrections is ending the year with a small budget surplus. A new program aims to reduce recidivism among those convicted of firearms offenses. Four DHS employees have been suspended pending the investigation into the death of a child who died of a head injury within a month of being sent to live with her father. The state will request more money from FEMA to subsidize storm shelters.

Landowners and environmentalists are raising concerns about a proposed crude oil pipeline through Oklahoma operated by a Canadian company whose other pipeline has a history of leaks. The Tulsa City Council may holds its own election without the involvement of the County Election Board because of a dispute over which district boundaries to use. In today’s Policy Note, Health Beat gives an overview of growing threats to Medicaid that could deny benefits to the youngest, poorest, most disabled and oldest Americans.

These stories and more below the jump.

continue reading In The Know: June 17, 2011

Child care cuts deal a blow to low-income working families and kids

by | June 16th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Children and Families | Comments (23)

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services this week approved changes to the state’s child care subsidy program that  will increase hardships for struggling low-income working families, threaten access to quality child care, and harm child care providers who serve low-income children. [UPDATE: In late July, the Commission decided to defer a vote on these changes until November]

DHS’ actions were precipitated by budget shortfalls for the upcoming year exceeding $30 million. The Legislature reduced state appropriations to DHS  for FY ’12 by a modest $6.0 million, or 1.1 percent, compared to FY ’11. However, the agency also faces the loss of one-time funding in this year’s budget, expected increases in program utilization, and higher employee benefit costs. To balance its budget, DHS proposed a series of  measures, which included voluntary buyouts of 231 positions, mostly within its field operations division for children and family services, and cuts in contracts for various social services.

continue reading Child care cuts deal a blow to low-income working families and kids

In The Know: June 16, 2011

by | June 16th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, Governor Fallin said that while she has no immediate plans to propose more income tax cuts, her long-term goal is to do away with the income tax. To cope with a budget shortfall, DHS is cutting child-care subsidies for low-income families. The program will increase co-pays by up to $60 more per month and lower the income limit for receiving subsidies. The OK Policy Blog has a quick take on the latest state revenue numbers. Oklahoma will launch a campaign to find out how many veterans live in the state to help maximize federal dollars for veteran’s services.

An Appeals Court reinstated part of the former state medical examiner’s wrongful firing suit. The court ruled that he can pursue a claim that his right to free speech was violated when he was fired after saying he would report wrongdoing by some subordinates. As more Oklahoma towns pass restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales to combat meth, some physicians say the ordinances are bad public health policy.

The Oklahoma Gazette reviews Sally Kern’s new book, in which she claims she was “verbally stoned” by critics after her 2008 statement that homosexuality is the biggest threat faced by the United States. The Delaware Nation unveiled a stimulus-funded project to install solar arrays at their complex north of Anadarko. State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft has dropped out of the special election for Senate District 43. In today’s Policy Note, a report by the Dallas Federal Reserve finds that the U.S. risks falling behind in the global race for talent if immigration laws are not reformed.

Read on for more.

continue reading In The Know: June 16, 2011

Quick Take: Revenues rebounding but still way down from pre-downturn levels

by | June 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (2)

This week, State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger announced General Revenue (GR) collections for May.  For the month, GR was $36 million, or 9.5 percent, above May 2010 and $25.4 million, or 6.5 percent, above the certified estimate. May collections would have been even higher but for the Legislature’s decision to allocate $21.4 million in oil revenues as supplemental funds for common and higher education. For the eleven months of FY ’11, revenues are $409.1 million, or 9.9 percent, above last year and $153.2 million, or 3.5 percent, above the certified estimate. In this blog post, we go a little deeper into the numbers with a series of brief observations and charts.

  • May marks the 13th straight month that revenues showed improvement compared to the same month for the prior year. In each of the last seven months, revenues have come in at least 9 percent higher than the prior year.

In The Know: June 15, 2011

by | June 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs.  Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld most of HB 1804, the 2007 anti-immigration law. The court struck down one provision that denies bail to undocumented immigrants arrested on felony counts or DUI complaints. Tulsa is looking at opening more city services to managed competition against private sector firms after city employees found cost savings and outbid 11 private firms to continue maintenance of city hall. Roy Clark Elementary in Tulsa is gaining national recognition for its success as a community school.

At a contentious Oklahoma City council meeting, councilpersons and members of the MAPS 3 citizens’ committee fought over the schedule for completing MAPS 3 projects. Oklahoma City and Norman were blasted by damaging hail and wind that tore the roof off an apartment building and snapped trees and power poles. The legislature is establishing a joint committee on long-term water planning and a special House committee to look at further pension reforms. A Tulsa police captain who refused to attend Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at an Islamic Center has been suspended for two weeks without pay.

A third Oklahoma town has passed an ordinance requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine tablets in an attempt to fight meth, and Dr. Jack Beller writes in NewsOK about the significant negative consequences of these measures. The OK Policy Blog has a guest post about a nationwide analysis of how states are moving forward on health insurance exchanges. An upcoming webinar hosted by the Oklahoma Assets Coalition will examine how Individual Development Accounts can help low-income individuals to save money for education, a small business, or a home. In today’s Policy Note, a new study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the EPA’s new rules on power plant pollution would not hurt job growth but would in fact slightly increase the number of jobs in coming years.

These stories and more below the jump.

continue reading In The Know: June 15, 2011